Auxiliary lanes project pace continues to be questioned

Dear Street Smarts, Q: As a 30 year resident of our dear county and long time reader of the Sentinel and your column, I am not naive when it comes to the machinatons of the guardians of our infrastructure. I also come from a family from New Jersey where my dad was mayor of a complex city (Wayne) about the size of Santa Cruz, as well as chair for transportation and construction for the state. I noted the above brief background only to give context to my observation that the rate at which road projects, like the mess at Morrissey and Highway 1, is proceeding at an absurdly slow rate; with apparent indifference to the negative impact on local traffic and its consequent damage to flow of residential and commercial activity. I have also lived in the NYC and Chicago metropolitan areas. Heads would roll if this kind of foot dragging persisted in those regions. It would not be tolerated by anyone. Yet, here, it's accepted as a fact of life. General lassitude prevails. The apparent indefinite end to this project would be laughable were it not causing physical, financial and emotional stress on our fellow travelers. Increase in accidents. Glenn Macwhorter, Aptos A: “We are proceeding right on schedule as initially anticipated of 18 to 24 months, beginning in February 2012,” said Kim Shultz, project manager for the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission, the agency behind the project, which will wrap up in October. “The new La Fonda Avenue bridge will be opened to pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists prior to the start of school on August 28.” An announcement regarding a grand opening event “to inaugurate the new bridge with wider sidewalks, bike lanes and a raised sidewalk at the exit to Harbor High School” will be released soon, he said. “The current circulation pattern at the high school, created out of necessity to accommodate the bridge construction activity, has proven so successful that school officials want to maintain it,” noted Shultz. Landscaping will decorate the project area and new asphalt will be applied to the highway. “There are many ways to accelerate an infrastructure project, from providing cash incentives to the contractor, extending construction hours, and/or limiting access through the construction zone,” Shultz explained. “As the backbone of the region’s highway system, it was not possible to constrain traffic on Highway 1, which must accommodate on average over 100,000 vehicles per day traveling through the center of the construction site. Likewise, it was not possible to extend the hours of construction on an ongoing basis as the construction site is surrounded by residences, some located literally only two feet away from construction activity.” However, there were times when it was necessary to schedule work during the “late evening and morning hours for specific events associated with construction of the new La Fonda Avenue Overcrossing,” he added. More points from Shultz:
  • Funding for this project was acquired through a highly competitive statewide process that generated requests “far in excess of the funds available through the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account portion of the State Transportation Bond Measure – Proposition 1B approved by voters in November 2006.”
  • Many communities throughout the state did not receive such funding, which was created to address the worst congested areas in the state, since rules were created to guard the expenditure of those funds.
  • The Regional Transportation Commission returned more than $2.4 million of the original funding allocated to the auxiliary lanes project based on the low bid received from the contractor, RGW Construction, of San Jose.
  • Careful oversight has occurred to avoid cost overruns, which would require reprogramming current or future local or regional street and road projects to account for those overruns.
  • The commission staff “is confident that this project will make a meaningful contribution to reducing the period of congestion along Highway 1 thereby reducing the number of motorists seeking shortcuts through surrounding neighborhoods which will help to improve the quality of life in Santa Cruz.”
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